At first glance, web development can seem like an exciting career. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to build a website or service that’s used by millions—maybe even billions—of people? But anyone who wants to become a web developer probably has lots of questions. For example: Do you need a four-year degree? What skills and disciplines are essential to know? And how much does it pay?
We spoke to several experts to help those who want to become a web developer figure out the ideal career path.
Exploring the potential roles for web developers
There are different kinds of web developers, each of which have specialized skills:
Front-end developers: Front end developers are responsible for the look and feel of a website or application, working with designers and back-end developers to produce a product that meets the needs of the client. Some of their most critical skills include:
- Front-End Development
- Software Engineering
- Software Development
- Web Application Development
Front-end developers must also work hand-in-hand with the organization’s UX/UI experts to ensure that whoever’s using the website has the best possible experience; the interface must be intuitive, with an easy-to-grasp flow. Some front-end developers find it very helpful to take a few UI/UX classes during the earlier stages of their careers. Understanding reactive design (i.e., how websites will run on different kinds of devices) is likewise critical.
Over the past year, according to Lightcast (which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country), employers have posted roughly 42,504 postings for front-end developers, suggesting a strong level of demand. The median salary is $97,052, but that can drift considerably higher with experience and skills mastery.
Back-end developers: These technology professionals must build and maintain the infrastructure that allows the front end of a website (i.e., what the user sees) to operate. Some vital skills for back-end developers include:
- Continuous integration
- Amazon Web Services (AWS)
- Machine Learning
- Test Driven Development (TDD)
- Big Data
- Backend Development
That’s in addition to mastering key programming languages and frameworks that help power the back-end of the web, including (but also not limited to) Java, Python, SQL, and Ruby.
Full-stack developers: Full-stack developers are versatile technology professionals who’ve mastered a range of front- and back-end technologies. For example, they might be able to advise their company on the best practices for UI/UX while utilizing server-side languages like Java, Python or Ruby and database technologies like SQL (MySQL) and NoSQL (DynamoDB, Mongo) to keep the web properties running.
What education is necessary to become a successful web developer?
Web developers who know how to code are always highly sought-after, even in an age with more templatized web development. “Any successful business will eventually need to add features and functions that are not part of the kit,” Robinson adds.
“If we're talking about formal education, then only core education for reading, writing and communicating are required,” says Peter Kryzek, CTO and co-founder at Chykalophia. “Everything else is skill-based, and skills can be learned at any time.”
Clint Sanchez, partner at BlakSheep Creative, says a degree in computer science may be helpful and just might impress potential employers: “Most web developers have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, although some have degrees in other areas, such as graphic design or information technology. And while a degree is not always required, most employers prefer to hire individuals who have one. So, if you’re thinking about a career in web development, I recommend getting a degree in computer science from an accredited college or university.”
What training should web developers go through?
“Coding bootcamps can be useful, but only if students choose the bootcamp that is best suited to their professional aspirations,” warns co-founder of MadeByShape, Andrew Golpys.
Shawn DeWolfe, led developer at Web 321, reminds us that web development is essentially two unique disciplines: front end, which handles customer-facing websites, and back end, which deals with the underpinnings that website visitors never see. “Web developers need to play their role to make all of the competing priorities work together. I suggest that developers spend some time in the different disciplines to know how they work and get a grounding in what the other roles need to shine and where there can be compromises to make everything work.”
Hands-on experience is likewise vital for anyone who wants to become a web developer, adds Sanchez: “And the best way to do this is by completing an internship or a co-op program. These programs will give you the opportunity to work on real-world projects under the supervision of experienced developers. And they will also help you to network with other professionals in the field.”
Ivey Barr, WordPress developer at Online Optimism, tells Dice: “It’s also important to learn about web accessibility. WCAG and Knowbility have lots of helpful guidelines, and even just thinking about using your site as a user with low vision, without a mouse, etc., is a great place to start noticing accessibility issues. People navigate the internet with all kinds of disabilities and all kinds of assistive technology, and it’s important to make sure everyone can navigate what you create.”
Technical skills required for web development
Though all our experts agree coding skills are critical, most advocate for mastery of “soft skills” as well.
“Flexibility and the ability to learn and grow are key,” Krzyzek says. “There are developers that are extremely rigid in their thinking and coding, and we're found folks like that to be difficult to work with and put out the lowest-quality solutions. The ability to adapt to new situations, adjust to changing circumstances and learn from mistakes has played a key role in getting our team members promoted.”
Barr adds that “patience, collaboration, work/life balance, and humility” all matter, too. When writing a web developer resume, or preparing for a web developer job interview, you’ll need to show that you’ve successfully collaborated with other stakeholders throughout an organization to finish projects and achieve critical goals; you’ll need to show that you can multi-task and work together well in teams.
Robonson says: “Teamwork and collaboration may involve working with other industries and departments, not just other developers who think in a technical way. This out-of-the-box thinking helps a successful developer to adapt and be flexible. Effectively communicating allows the team and developer's network to enjoy working with the developer which is key to success.”
According to Lightcast, the following skills pop up most frequently in “generalized” web developer job postings. If you want to become a web developer, knowing many of these skills is absolutely critical:
Web developers must also gain serious problem-solving skills if they want to have an enduring career; projects can quickly become complex, and you have to apply a great deal of creativity and intuition to solve some thorny challenges. In a typical week, a web developer might be called upon to:
- Debug a website and/or coding errors.
- Optimize the website’s speed and performance.
- Ensure that the website works properly across a range of browsers.
- Optimize the website’s responsiveness on a wide range of hardware, from phones and tablets to PCs.
While you’ll pick up the solutions to many common problems during your web developer education, keep in mind that you’ll also learn a lot in the course of the job.
How much do web developers get paid?
According to Lightcast, the median annual salary for web developers is $91,991. On top of that, web development as a profession is projected to grow 8.4 percent over the next decade.
Of course, a web developer salary can rise with experience and skills, bringing it into alignment with the average U.S. technology professional salary, which now stands at $104,566—a 6.9 percent increase between 2020 and 2021, according to the latest Dice Tech Salary Report.
Web development is an intensely popular profession with a lot of opportunities to specialize. Whether you want to become a front-end, back-end, or full-stack developer, there are organizations that will need your skills—provided you’ve mastered the necessary tools, frameworks, and programming languages. Just keep in mind that the web is continually evolving, and web developers who develop successful long-term careers always have an interest in learning and growing their abilities.